Last week we discussed the necessity of certain missionary fundamentals for kingdom disciples. Much like the basic skills of any sport, those committed to living and loving like Jesus must return to the fundamentals of faith-fueled prayer, intentional relationships, and Jesus centrality. Repeated daily, these habits are the baseline for the work of church planters, missionaries, pastors, and everyday disciple-makers. Any hope of sustained movement in North America depends on the cultivation of these fundamentals among all of God’s people.
Much has been written about the role of pastors and church leaders in propelling the church outward into God’s great mission. Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian church help clarify a central leadership fundamental for pastors that must coincide with the missionary fundamentals of the church that we mentioned last week. Paul provides a job description of sorts when he says that these leaders exist “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).
This equipping function is disorienting for many leaders who’ve been trained, or simply assumed, that the role of pastor amounted to being the resident expert on all things spiritual. In many cases these leaders have spent years thinking about refined theological ideas and engaging in intramural banter around these themes. Also, assuming the best about these leaders, many of them were elevated to a position of leadership because of deep convictions about God and His Word and consistent character derived from a vibrant intimacy with the Father.
There are expectations to this type of leader, of course. Some are unqualified, unprepared, or ungodly. Let’s leave this group to the side for the time being. The remaining leaders are the kind of people we want leading the church. They are zealous for God. They’ve thought deeply about the things of God. And their lives demonstrate a love for God and His people. Praise God for such leaders.
But there’s often still a problem. Even good leaders struggle to integrate their passionate pursuit of God with their calling to equip God’s people for ministry and mission. The parallel to sports is once again helpful: It’s one thing to know how to play the game yourself, it’s a vastly different thing to effectively coach others to do what you naturally do.
The model of a player-coach is what we’re after. We don’t simply want a coach who’s yelling at the players from the sidelines to do things that the coach isn’t also doing. No one wants to be exhorted to share the gospel by someone who clearly isn’t pursuing such a lifestyle personally. We want coaches in the church who are in the game alongside of their team—teaching and modeling for others the type of life patterns essential for kingdom-living. The shift from pastor as resident-expert to pastor as player-coach will require a number of competencies from current or future leaders.
Strive to Articulate Unconscious Competencies
Effective leaders have developed missional habits that come natural to them. They know how to develop a relationship with a non-believer. They understand how to turn a conversation to spiritual matters. They’ve organized their home to promote strategic hospitality. These practices are unconscious because of consistent use but they are not equally habitual for the average person sitting in church buildings each Sunday.
No number of compelling sermons is going to help the average church member move from their current reality to God’s preferred future unless they have a loving coach come alongside of them and help them take the tedious steps necessary to move in the right direction. Leaders must learn to take unconscious habits of kingdom-living and coach others to follow their pattern.
Fight for Simplicity
There’s a certain kind of simplicity that’s actually indicative of laziness, but there’s another that’s actually the mark of great wisdom and maturity. The latter group are able to scale the mountain of complexity that is theology, missiology, and ecclesiology and come down on the other side and make those great truths understandable and approachable to the broader church.
This act need not mean watered-down theological drivel. Leaders can, and must, fight to equip the saints in the great truths of Scripture in a way that their unique church context can grasp what God is saying and what they are to do with that truth. Supposedly “deep” teaching that leaves the hearer more confused than equipped might do more harm than good because it further entrenches the clergy-laity divide that posits the pastor as the necessary mediator between God and man. Simplicity counters this trend and helps the church see the commonality we all share in the work of kingdom living.
Discover or Develop Fundamental Tools
Leaders have a basis understanding of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. We all need to know how to steward our relationship with God through prayer and Bible reading. We need help in pursuing unity with God’s people and working through conflict. We need tools to live on mission and share the gospel effectively. Yes, we can teach to these themes, but such work should be supplemented with the development of strategic tools that help God’s people establish the foundational marks of a disciple.
One such example in the Seven Arrows method for Bible reading that I’ve developed to equip the church. This approach provides the church with a simple, sticky, reproducible model for Bible reading and is a perfect supplement for a vibrant preaching ministry in the church. Leaders should either grab tools like this that already exist or work to develop their own simple and scalable methods of disciple-formation.
Teach in Action
Finally, pastors as player-coaches strive to teach in action whenever possible. They follow the pattern of Jesus who infused his daily missionary practices with sidebar conversations with his disciples. In these moments he was able to speak to critical theological matters and do so using real-life examples of success or failure. Pastors intent on equipping will strategically press themselves out of the study and take their teaching ministry on the road, inviting various members of the church into the rhythms of their missionary practices.
The return on investment of such teaching in action will likely far exceed that found in the average Sunday sermon. Even better, leaders can model the themes of their weekly teaching in the week’s that follow and practically say to the church, “Come with me and watch what it looks like to apply the ideas we considered on Sunday.” Not only would such practice hold the pastor accountable and combat hypocrisy, but it would also further instill truth in those leaders entrusted to equip.
The work of equipping is difficult, make no mistake. It’s far easier to lob truth from a distance rather than get embroiled in the messy lives of others. But such player-coaches are the types of leaders who will lead the future church in North America in whatever form that church might take.
Matt Rogers is a father of five living in Greenville, South Carolina. He pastors The Church at Cherrydale and serves as an assistant professor of Church Planting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt writes and speaks throughout the United States on issues ranging from discipleship, church leadership, and missions.